Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Back to Back

After looking at the backs of flowers last week, I had the idea to paint a study of the back of Clematis 'Etoile Violette' as a partner to my finished painting of the flower. The back of this clematis has a beautiful shimmery silver effect that looks amazing against the deep purple of the front of the petals, and I couldn't resist painting it.

Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light
                                                                                         -Theodore Roethke

This time I intend to work mainly from the photos I took earlier in the season, when the plant was at it's flowery peak. There are a few fading blooms left, but I will use these mostly for sizing and colour reference. The photo that has really caught my eye is this one, and I love how the petals are widely spread and there are one or two nibbled bits.

The set up

Using the tablet, my completed painting of a clematis flower and my colour charts.

Nibbled an gnarled.
I love the shape and texture of this flower
and think it might make a lovely accompaniment
to my other clematis painting.
In it's summertime prime 

The colour chart
Some of the delicious purples by Daniel Smith

It is so easy to ignore the beauty of the backs of flowers as they give us so much to appreciate on the front, but having taken a closer look over the last few days, I knew it would make a beautiful subject. Also, there have been fewer distractions this weeks, so as I am on what appears to be a bit of a roll, it would be good to get another small study out of the way. And it's given me the chance to work with my favourite colour purple, so a double pleasure.

At first I had considered completing this one on my small and precious piece of vellum that I still have squirrelled away for a rainy day, but decided against it. If this one goes well, it would make a nice pair with the bloom I have already painted. So, back to the drawer for the vellum. One day, your time will surely come.

As always, I start with an accurate drawing on tracing film.
This helps me get the best composition,
 and the film can take a lot of rubbing out.

This time around I started with the stem and stamens.
A deep bronze-green went into the deepest shadow

The ends of the stamens have a deep purple with a reddish tone
The pale stamen stem has a lighter bronze-olive colour 

Starting to get the colours and tones mapped
Just now I am really loving working with darker tones and colours as the depth really gives punch to a painting. The next few weeks should provide lots of great subjects to continue the theme as the rose hips and autumn berries come to the seasonal fore.

Friday, 22 August 2014

A Beautiful Back

Finally, I have had something of a productive week, with a new piece for the portfolio finished and another already set to go. Sometimes, things all come together. Now, along with my own work, it's time to start thinking about the next subject for my classes that are starting in September. The first class is set to focus on late summer flowers, and there are some lovely subjects coming into their own just now, so there will be plenty to choose from.   

Dahlias always make a nice subject, although my favourites are the single, daisy blooms that the bees adore. A few years ago I painted a yellow one named Dahlia 'Party'. My favourite view of this flower was actually from the back, which had a lovely raspberry-ripple effect on the petals with a gorgeous bronze tone. Unfortunately the front of the flowers weren't quite as successful, as I wasn't so keen on the brighter yellow, and although I was keen to try it again, the plant didn't have the same heart, and died over the winter that year.

From the front.
The perfect bloom of a Dahlia
A lovely subject for a workshop, and a terrific colour

Still, I am quite keen to bring these cheery and pretty blooms to my students and have found the most gloriously pink variety, or there's a lovely coppery one too. Just which to choose. Both will provide plenty of interest and challenge with colour mixing and layering of washes but also there are the finer details and the daintiest of stems that is the colour of fine red wine. Should be a good day.

An early one from me.
Not wholly successful, but I like the back view,
and the buds came out quite well too.
©Jarnie Godwin

And from the back

I love the back of this Dahlia, it really shows the 'nuts and bolts' of the structure of the flower, and how it has emerged from the bud. Whenever I am painting a subject, I really like to study it from all sides, but especially from the back. So much can be gleaned from this view, and I try to incorporate a back view into my paintings. The petals also have a lovely texture, as they are a reverse of the front with the veining appearing more pronounced and the colours taking on greater depth.

Look deep into nature,
and then you will understand everything better
Albert Einstein

Other flowers can also have wonderfully contrasting backs to their petals, and it is beneficial to take a peek on the other side, as sometimes you find a really interesting viewpoint. Indeed, some artists will make sure they include a back view in their paintings, as this can often provide a more interesting and beautiful subject. This one in particular really caught my eye when I first started painting in the botanical style.

Taken from Billy Showell's book, 'Watercolour Flower Portraits'.
The back of the white lily completes a composition showing
the flower from bud to full bloom.
©Billy Showell
With kind permission

Although not a full back view,
I added a good amount of back view in this recent study.
©Jarnie Godwin

My favourite postcard.

Taken from her Gold Medal winning series of Sunflower paintings,
Sharon Tingey included this extraordinary painting of the back view.

Personally, it's my favourite of this series
©Sharon Tingey
With kind permission

Whenever I take reference photos of a subject, I always include a good amount of images taken from the back. Not only does it show how the flower attaches to the stem and some information that can't be seen from the front, I just like them. You never know when you might come across an absolute gem, that you just have to paint.

My new yellow Rubeckia has a lovely back view,
and all those hairs add beautiful texture and contrast

A simple Cosmos flower.
The veining is so much more pronounced from the back.
And again, there is wonderful texture

Another Dahlia.
The wonderful coppery tones are beautifully evident,
and the 'raspberry-ripple' effect is there. 
Etoile Violette has that gorgeous silvery 'flocked'
appearance on the back, which is greatly in contrast
to the deep, velvety tones of the front

Monday, 18 August 2014

Perfect Imperfection

Just spent a morning working on the Iris seed pods, and I am really enjoying the challenge of capturing all of the greens that are melding into each other on the fruits. It's nice to find the blotches and blemishes forming too, as these add such lovely character to a piece and bring the sense of the living plant onto the page. Getting that little moment in time is what it's all about for me, and I love to get a real sense of the personality and fragility of every subject. I think that's also why I like to add blemishes and nibble holes to leaves, nothing is ever completely perfect, and I like that.

Nature will bear the closest inspection,
She invites us to lay our eyes level with her smallest leaf,
and take an insect view of it's plain
Henry David Thoreau

So, with a couple of wash layers completed, the depth and tone is starting to take shape and give the fruits some sense of roundness. Working into the creases with some darker mixes, leaving areas of light right next to it, gives such a wonderful contrast, and going darker still will give even greater impact. On such a small scale, I am looking forward to seeing how the subject sits within the space.

Technology helps stop the ageing process

Laying a light wash of Cerulean with a little Lemon Yellow

Brighter shades of green going into the shadow areas

Modelling the pods

The far left pod with the first wash

The seeds from the pod I opened the other day have shrivelled somewhat and are a bit of a dull brown, unlike the Iris foetidissima, which has the most glorious, glossy orangey-red seeds and is grown mostly for this display, as the flowers are not that spectacular. Interestingly, this along with Iris pseudoacorus are the only two native British iris species. 

Iris foetidissima seeds in Autumn
image care of On the Edge Gardening
Before I shuffled off for some lunch,
this was as far as I got today.

A wash of Transparent yellow over the 'warmer'
areas gives a good contrast of warm and cool 


Friday, 15 August 2014

How Did it get so Late so Soon?

With the latest sketchbook out of the way, it's time to concentrate on those seed pods. Watching the larger of my two stems, I have noted how the texture of the skin of the pods has changed. When I first nabbed it, the pods were a lovely shiny, bright green. Firm and glossy to the touch, over the week the texture is now a bit papery and the sheen has dulled somewhat with the colour turning darker and less luminous. With a second stem of fewer pods, I hope to work on a smaller, square study of the young pods and hope that the the ripening ones will open to reveal the seeds.

The subject
A small stem of  Iris pseudacorus

Sometimes, I lay the subject onto the paper,
 to see how the composition might fit.

Watching the ageing process of this iris plant from first shoots, to flower to seeds is such a visual reminder of the passage of time. It feels like only a few weeks ago that I took the same familiar stroll and saw these cheery yellow blooms in all their glory cutting a swathe along the road. How quickly the blooms faded and now we have their final hurrah of the season before they disappear for their winter slumber, only to reappear a new in the spring.  

The older pods have lost their plump, glossy appearance
and are now starting to wither.

Curiosity got the better of me,
and I had to have a peek inside.
Cutting carefully with my scalpel, the seeds are revealed.

A regiment of seeds all patiently waiting 

Some of the flat seeds alongside the pod.

The rest of the ageing pods will hopefully open on their own.

   How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?

Ah well, the apples on my tree in the garden are nearly there too, and only this morning I came out with that time honoured phrase, 'ooh, it's a bit nippy out this morning'. I love August, it's not quite summer and it's not quite autumn.

So, back to the painting. First, I have set up my paper. Still using some of the Fabriano 5 I have left over, I have transferred my drawing and stretched the paper onto my board using gum strip. Although I am sure the paper doesn't really need it, I have got into the habit of this preparation, and in my view, "if it 'aint broke, don't fix it".

The accurate drawing, ready to go

First wash and colour swatches
Lots of yellowy greens for the under wash,
and a little Cerulean for the lighter areas. 

So, onto the colours. The greens are going to be well used this time around, but I really am looking to use a good range to achieve better depth of tone than I feel I have done on some of my other 'green' pieces. Having picked up loads of really good tips lately from fellow artists, I am hoping to put them into practise and see the difference it makes. We are always learning something new and it's good to be open to new techniques. Again in the palette, Indanthrene Blue, Lemon Yellow, Sennelier Yellow Light, Daniel Smith's Athraquinoid Red and Light Red will all make an appearance although I will also need a good range of shadow mixes and neutrals.

To really show off the large, succulent pods, I am working in a smaller square format, to achieve a cropped effect. It's a very different format for me as I am used to using full A3 size paper, but I am trying to get the next five paintings completed quite quickly and as I am quite a slow painter    

The subjects are certainly queueing up, as my artichoke is also nearing readiness   

Monday, 11 August 2014

Sketchbooks and Scale Rules

This week, I have been working on the next sketchbook in the exchange project I am taking part in. For this one, I went a bit OTT with the midsummer theme. Prose, calligraphy, photography and sketches all went into this one and I must admit, it was loads of fun.

Honeysuckle berries and some of the mixes

You may remember I mentioned honeysuckle would be the main floral flourish here and I made sure there were blooms, buds and berries included on the page in all their pinky lusciousness. favourite colours such as Indanthrene Blue, Lemon Yellow, Perylene Maroon and Permanent Rose combined beautifully with a new favourite by Daniel Smith. Anthraquinoid Red has a lovely depth and lifts beautifully with the brush. The texture is soft and the paint itself makes gorgeous, deep blends.  
Summery shades of fresh green, pink and sunshine yellow

Purples and pinks on a partially open flower

Along with the painted elements, I decided to include a sprig rendered partially with ink. I love using my Rotring pen (as you may know) and I like the sketchy appeal of unfinished pieces in a sketchbook. Along with the written Shakespeare quote from A Midsummer Night's Dream, I hoped to create an old fashioned sketchbook appeal where mixed media and different elements would be combined.    

Pen and pencil along with painted elements 

So where are the finished pages I hear you cry. Ah well, you will have to visit The Natural Sketchbook Exchange blog to see how it all looks together.

Elsewhere, I have been getting re-acquainted with some old friends. Back in the day, I used to use a scale rule every day of my working life. Everything I drew for a new building had to be scaled down into the architectural drawings I would prepare. Although I haven't used it for years, I kept it and now find I need it again. Funny how things come round.

What goes around...

My old scale rule and a couple of other 'old friends'
At the weekend, it was lovely to have friend's over for dinner. Good weather, good food and good conversation really are what makes the world go round in our house and the good times continued to roll when I was presented with this lovely gift. or rather, the garden was.

Happy, yellow Rudbeckia

And my artichoke is getting ever-bigger

I sense a painting soon

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


This morning started with a very early start, and a quick snatch and grab operation to collect an iris seed head from the spot where we had photographed them the other day. Once collected, the stem, weighing a tonne was carefully placed in a bag and then hidden away in a satchel. Well, I say hidden, it wasn't a good attempt as the thing was so long, it stuck out. Ah well, have you never seen someone walking down the road with a big load of foliage hanging out of their bag before madam? Home, as quickly as possible.

Having got the thing home, it was time for the set up. A large jam jar was utilised to take the weight of the impressive stem and it did look quite majestic, with an equally large leaf to go with it. This has the promise of looking like a nice composition, if I can do it justice. The shine is amazing and the depth of colour equally so. Blues and turquoise enrich the fresh, greens and yellowy tones, whilst there are some nice dead bits to add contrast and texture.

It's a bit big this one.

Gloriously glossy and with a plethora of greens, a challenge awaits.

Of course, now we can identify the beast, although those huge fruits should be enough for any botanist. This is Iris pseudacorus, or the Yellow Flag, yellow iris or water iris so named as it is most happy growing in wet conditions. perfect for the job of naturalising a flood ditch then? Which is where I found them growing in huge numbers. 

Guerin Pierre Narcisse - Morpheus and Iris 1811.jpg
Morpheus and Iris by Pierre-Narcisse Guerin
Image c/o Wikimedia

The rich history of the iris dates back to ancient Greece, when the Greek Goddess Iris, the messenger of the gods and the personification of the rainbow, acted as a link between heaven and earth. Purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the Goddess to guide the dead on their journey. Ancient Egyptian kings admired the iris’s exotic nature, and drawings have been found of the flower in a number of Egyptian palaces. 

During the Middle Ages, the meaning of irises became linked to the French monarchy, and the Fleur-de-lis eventually became the recognised national symbol of France. The yellow iris is often stated to be the original inspiration for the Fleur-de-lis. The popular heraldic symbol, possibly dating as far back as the 15th century, is often associated with the flower of the Lily, but it has been strongly suggested that not only the colour, but the shape of the symbol have more in relation to the yellow iris. From their earliest years, irises have also been used to make perfume and as a medicinal remedy.


The Lilly
The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble sheep a threat'ning horn:
While the Lily white shall in love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright. 
                                                                                                      William Blake

...or Iris

Vive la France

The golden Fleur-de-lis.
Iris or lily?

A comparison of the Yellow Iris and an image of the Fleur-de-lis

Image c/o Wikimedia

Right, back to the drawing board. First up, as always was to get some of the colours right with a few dabbles with the palette and some swatches. Lots of Winsor Lemon, and Sennelier Yellow Light was used along with my favourite Indanthrene Blue, French Ultramarine and Cerulean to make the greens. Ages ago, I got into the habit of adding touches of red to my green mixes, so this time, I used Light Red and Perylene Maroon to give a greater range.

Testing the greens, and some rough sketches.

Earthy browns and oranges
A withering seedpod
Working on a quick sketch page today.
More tomorrow.